Undercover trash-tracking project follows Starbucks cups from Denver stores to landfill

Trackers show coffee cups ultimately destined for the dump, despite coffee giant’s in-store recycling bins that trick consumers into thinking they’re doing the right thing.

A Better Cup from Survival Media Agency

A Better Cup from Survival Media Agency on Vimeo.

Calling all Starbucks lovers: Your beloved green and white cups are contributing to our world’s growing plastic pollution crisis. And if you think you fulfill your environmental duty when you ditch your daily cup at an in-store recycling bin, think again. Starbucks' iconic paper cups are lined with plastic, which makes them unrecyclable pretty much everywhere in the U.S. — Denver included.

As part of the #BetterCup campaign aimed at educating coffee lovers about Starbucks’ unrecyclable plastic-lined paper cups, Washington-based environmental group Stand.earth today released an undercover trash-tracking video that follows Starbucks cups at three Denver locations from in-store recycling bins to the Denver landfill. 

"Our trash-tracking project confirmed what we’ve suspected all along: Starbucks cups can't be recycled in most places and end up at the dump. What the coffee giant decides to do about its #StarbucksTrash is the question every customer should be asking," said Ross Hammond, U.S. Campaign Director, Stand.earth.

Read the Denver Post article: Consumers think they’re recycling. It’s ending up in a landfill: Trash-tracking project in Denver highlights problem with Starbucks cups

Stand.earth launched the #BetterCup campaign in 2016, calling on Starbucks to live up to its promise to make a recyclable cup. In 2008, Starbucks pledged to make a 100% recyclable paper cup and sell 25% of drinks in reusable cups by 2015. Ten years later, Starbucks has failed to deliver on either of those pledges.

Starbucks cups are not accepted for recycling in most U.S. cities because the plastic lining makes them difficult to recycle at traditional recycling facilities. Instead, more than 4 billion Starbucks cups end up in the landfill every year — that’s 8,000 paper cups every minute of every day. (Read the report: "Trashed: The Secret of the Starbucks Cup")

“Our global plastic pollution problem is at a tipping point. By 2050 there is projected to be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight. As the world’s largest purveyor of our “to-go” coffee culture, Starbucks cups are a huge contributor to the plastic catastrophe taking over our landfills and our oceans,” said Ross Hammond, U.S. Campaign Director, Stand.earth.

The activists-turned-trash-trackers glued GPS-based trackers into 11 Starbucks cups and placed them in recycling bins in six Denver-area Starbucks stores. While some trackers died or malfunctioned, four trackers were successfully followed from three stores to two landfills. And what’s even more interesting? Two trackers were first rejected from a recycling center before moving on to the dump.

The video is being released ahead of Starbucks’ annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, March 21, in Seattle. At the meeting, the coffee giant is urging its shareholders to vote “no” on a proposal that simply asks the company to report on progress on developing a policy on sustainable packaging.

In March, more than a dozen leading environmental organizations, including Stand.earth, launched "Starbucks: Break Free From Plastic"— a global campaign demanding that Starbucks take accountability for its contribution to the growing plastic pollution crisis. Sign the petition to save our oceans at: https://mobilize4change.org/starbucks.

Media contact: Virginia Cleaveland, Stand.earth, virginia@stand.earth, 510-858-9902